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Misguided Mesorah

By Rabbi Aryeh Z. Ginzberg

Chofetz Chaim Torah Center

I would like to thank Barry Jacobson for his eloquent and heartfelt article titled “The Mesorah of Chesed” in last week’s paper. I often receive hundreds of comments, critiques, and, yes, sometimes even attacks, after publishing articles on topics that trigger emotional responses. How refreshing it was to read one written with serious conviction, concern, and respect, though I wish he had reserved some of that respect for the gedolim he had referenced in his article.

I also want to personally thank him for the kind words about my father, zt’l, whom Mr. Jacobson remembered so fondly from his yeshiva days. It was a tribute that was well deserved and much appreciated.

Finally, thank you Mr. Jacobson for having the courage to sign your name, because no matter how eloquent or scholarly a letter or article may be, if submitted anonymously, I never respond. If one cannot stand by what he believes, then it is not worth writing down those beliefs and surely not worth responding to. I thank you for your courage and for offering me the opportunity to clarify some of the issues you so eloquently raised.

You wrote that you were disappointed that no questions were allowed from the audience. I respectfully beg to differ. In organizing the event, we were concerned with the program first beginning at 10:30 p.m., with four scheduled speakers. Should we open the floor to questions, the evening would go on for hours. As a matter of mere convenience, we opened the floor to questions, but via the moderator who was selecting the choicest questions to ask from amongst the questions submitted in writing by those in the audience. I’m sorry that you were disappointed.

Now to address some of your comments.

To debate or discuss the founding of Zionism cannot be done properly in these few newspaper pages. Volumes have been written detailing both the historical and hashkafic issues on this topic. I prefer to focus on the present but want to clarify a few points.

You go back 100 years discussing the history of chareidi vs. Zionism all the way back to the days of Herzl. You refer to Herzl’s “prophecy.” Herzl was a person so far removed from anything connected to the life of a Jew committed to Torah and mitzvos that his so called “prophecy” for the Jewish people included the removal of any form of traditional values of Avoseinu Hakdoshim, beyond simple Jewish culture.

I will be sending you a copy of a manuscript that was written by the Chief Rabbi of Basel, Switzerland, Rav Asher Cohn, z’l, who happens to have been my wife’s maternal great-grandfather. Herzl referred to him as his rabbi and invited him to give the opening charge at the first Zionist convention in Basel. Towards the end of his life, the rav penned a manuscript describing Herzl and his relationship with him. Rav Cohn doesn’t share your enthusiasm of Herzl’s “prophecy” but rather is concerned with his ultimate desire of “ridding all of Jewry of their religious trappings.” Forgive the chareidim for not sharing your vision of the founding “prophet” of Zionism.

You also refer to the “supposed episode” of secularization of the Yemenite children, etc., when even the most “ardent Zionist” amongst us knows full well of the designs of the early fathers of the state to remove all chareidi influence on Israeli society. To ignore that is not being a true Zionist; it is being dishonest.

You also take issues with the chareidim’s objection to the tefillah for the Medinah or for the chayalim by their citing of all kinds of Kabbalistic reasons (your words). Please refer to the Koveitz Igros Chazon Ish (volume 1), Nefesh Harav from Rav Soloveitchik, zt’l, and Shailos Uteshuvos Yabia Omer (volume 3) from Rav Ovadia Yosef, shlita, who discuss their halachic objections to it. Not one cites any “Kabbalistic reasons.” This important point requires a lengthy review, something well beyond the constraints of a newspaper article.

Barry, we have a lot in common. Not only do we share in the appreciation of my late father, zt’l’s unique qualities, we also share in the great love and pride in our and in every Jew’s home, Eretz Yisrael. I fully identify with your feeling of pride just walking through the streets of “our” land and our country called Eretz Yisrael; but that should not for a moment cause us to lose perspective that neither the founders of the state, nor the new faces of today’s government, both kippah-wearing and non-kippah-wearing, share the vision that you and I have of what Eretz Yisrael should look like.

And please understand that this is not a contradiction!

More than 40 years ago, as a teenager one month past my 16th birthday, I made my first trip to Eretz Yisrael to learn in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim of Yerushalayim. It turned into a prolonged visit of 16 months. That unforgettable experience shaped my love for Eretz Yisrael in both heart and soul. I remember most one particular shmuz (mussar talk) given by my rebbe, HaRav Moshe Chait, zt’l. He was a gifted and inspiring orator and this particular shmuz is forever etched in my soul. I hear it again and again in my head each time I step off the plane in Eretz Yisrael.

One day, a few boys from the yeshiva were returning from the basketball court a few blocks away and hadn’t noticed that Rav Chait happened to be walking to yeshiva for Minchah about 10 feet behind them. One of the boys opened a chocolate bar that he had in his pocket and without giving much thought tossed the wrapper onto the sidewalk. As soon as Minchah concluded, the mashgiach banged on the shulchan and said that everyone should gather around and that Rav Chait wanted to address the student body at that time. This was highly unusual, as Rav Chait’s talks were limited to twice a week and we wondered what is the emergency that warrants this special shmuz. Rav Chait stood up and with tears in his eyes and in a quivering voice spoke with such passion that I had never heard before or after, sharing his pain that a bachur from his yeshiva threw a candy wrapper onto the street in Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh in Artzeinu Hakedoshah. He continued for an hour on a passionate explanation what Kedushas Haaretz is and how we have to feel the special berachah of Eretz Yisrael in every waking moment of our day and how could a true Yiddishe neshamah be so callous as to sully the streets of Yerushalayim. I have never forgotten that derashah, its words, its passion, and, most importantly, its message.

Rav Chait’s yeshiva did not say tefillah lamedinah, nor Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut, and did not view Herzl as a “prophet.” Yet his love and pride in Eretz Yisrael was no less than yours. What you see as a stirah (contradiction) he and countless others do not.

Our instructions while we were in yeshiva was if we are learning in the beis medrash and the siren of Yom Hazikaron is heard, we were to keep learning as this method of “remembrance” is not the “Jewish way” of zikaron (that also warrants a separate discussion). But if we are on the street in public, then we must stand at attention, as not to create a chillul Hashem. Having a barbecue in a public park during Yom Hazikaron is no less a chillul Hashem than Ben-Gurion sitting in an open café on Rechov Arlossorof in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur and having lunch, making sure that the photographer from Yediot Achronot caught it on camera.

I have way too much respect and admiration for you to really believe that you are from the “accusers” who make the accusation that the physical violence against religious IDF soldiers or to any Jew is sanctioned by gedolei Yisrael. It is no less a lie and no less ridiculous than the historical “blood libel” of yesteryear. I do not know of even one gadol who ever has, or will, advocate violence against another Jew, no matter what the issue is.

Another disturbing aspect in your article was the giyul nefesh, “utter disgust” (in your words) that you and your “chaverim” feel at the constant anti-Zionist propaganda spewed forth by the chareidim. I deeply admire the depth of your sensitivity, but I wonder: do you and your chaverim also feel the same giyul nefesh when the chareidim are called “parasites” and the “evil of society” by fellow members of Klal Yisrael from the Knesset podium; or is the “utter disgust” you and your chaverim have only reserved for the chareidim?

As an aside, your backhanded scholarly swipe at the shita of the Satmar Rebbe, zt’l, by referring to his “entire ideology” is based upon on some “obscure aggadata” (again your words) must have come in a moment of passionate forgetfulness. I assume you had read the Satmar Rebbe’s entire sefer that represents his worldview and came to the conclusion that his “only source” is some “obscure aggadata.” I will suggest that you go back and review his writings. While I do not share the ideology of the Satmar shita, it is because my Rebbe, zt’l, and the gedolei ha’dor I adhere to did not either. But this does not in any way mean that his shita is not based upon a comprehensive and deep understanding of Torah.

You also besmirched the very individual that all of Torah Jewry relied upon for more than a quarter of a century as the ultimate da’as Torah of our generation. His position as such was not granted to him by popular vote or elections in the Knesset; that title was confirmed upon him by the gedolei ha’dor of the previous generation, from Rav Chaim Ozer, zt’l, the Chazon Ish, zt’l, and the Brisker Rov, zt’l (amongst many others.) A person whose depth and dedication to Torah is still held in awe by every serious Torah student, even today, years after his passing. Today’s gadol ha’dor, Rav Chaim Kanievski, shlita, used to go see him every Rosh Chodesh just so he could make the berachah with Shem Umalchus at the sight of such a scholar (which was witnessed by this author).

Despite your opinions, shitos, and conflicts, you can find it in yourself to write for the public consumption such words of disrespect for the gadol ha’dor and leader of world Torah Jewry. Is there any concern on your part for how you will respond to this after 120 years? Remember the words of Chazal, codified in the Rambam, that when one is mevazeh a talmid chacham (let alone a gadol ha’dor) there is no portion in the World to Come! These words are not a criticism nor a curse—just a heartfelt painful question. How could a G‑d-fearing Jew think like that, let alone write it for the public consumption?

You write the “Klal” is mortified and tired (your words). If I may be so bold as to ask which “Klal” you are referring to. Is it the tens of thousands of bnei Torah that spend their days and nights studying, analyzing, and trying to understand the depths of Torah that this gadol ha’dor left us as his legacy? Or is the “Klal” you are referring to, you and your chaverim, whose sole understanding and connection to this gadol is from your reading his transcribed speeches in English?

About 15 years ago, I was invited to participate in the Thursday-night keynote session at an Agudah convention, where I shared a personal story about my experience with this gadol ha’dor, zt’l, that seemingly struck a chord and immediately went viral. It has been retold and written over in many sefarim and books since, but permit me to repeat it as it is pursuant to our friendly discussion.

First a simple disclaimer. Repeating this personal story should not be misinterpreted that this gadol ha’dor, whose love for every Jew was legendary, might in any way need my help in defending him or his reputation. Nor does it minimize even a drop from the unforgivable aveirah of “bizayon talmid chacham berabim” that you perpetuated in your public article. I hope that maybe I can prevent someone who was never exposed to the ahavas Yisrael of this gadol ha’dor from possibly being influenced by your misguided diatribe.

More than 25 years ago, I was a guest for Shabbos at a particular community that was looking for a rav. The old rav had recently retired, and the shul was divided into various factions. There was difficulty in making a clear choice. After Shabbos was over and thankfully my shiurim passed the test, I was invited to meet with the shul’s board of directors.

Following an enjoyable and informative interview, one young man asked that “important question” as to what is my view of Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut. I responded that though my heart never left Eretz Yisrael, on this issue, I am too small to make my own interpretation. Since I have been blessed with having two great rebbeim in my life—my rebbe in Torah was Rav Henoch Leibowitz, zt’l, from Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim and in halachah it was Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l— and since neither of them do so, I just follow my mesorah.

At that point, the young man who raised the question jumped up and said, “I thought so, you are from the ‘Shach school of thought’ and that is not for us.” To clarify, he was not referring to the great classic commentary on Shulchan Aruch referred to as the “Shach”; what he was disrespectfully referring to was the gadol ha’dor, Rav Shach, zt’l. The realization that I follow my mesorah and do not say Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut aligned me with that gadol’s view of Zionism and therefore it was not the hashkafah that he wanted in a rav.

Immediately after his disrespectful comment, the entire board of directors present began to scold him for both his manner of speech and disrespect to me. I stood up and asked for the floor and said that I take no offence whatsoever and appreciated him speaking his mind. However with the disrespect shown to the gadol ha’dor by his remark (something akin to the comments in the aforementioned article) I would like to respond. I shared the following story.

In the years I was zocheh to learn in Eretz Yisrael, I made it my business to visit and become close to many of the gedolim there, including HaRav Shach, zt’l. I would go to him often on Friday afternoons, which was a more quiet time for him, and I was able to spend a considerable amount of time in his company.

One Erev Shabbos, as the house was full of people, I was awaiting my turn to speak to him. All of a sudden, his grandson came in and asked everyone to leave, because the doctor had arrived and Rav Shach had a serious infection on his foot that needed to be cut out. Everyone left, but with the insolence of youth, I decided to stay to observe, that maybe I could learn something by observing this great gadol. I stood in the library behind the bookcase and watched as a serious discussion ensued between the doctor and the rosh hayeshiva. The doctor wanted to give the gadol a shot of a painkiller to minimize the pain that he would feel with the knife cutting out the infection. Rav Shach refused. He was in the midst of preparing for his shiur klalli that he was to give the following week and he didn’t want to have the painkiller that would affect his ability to think clearly and deeply.

Reluctantly, the doctor agreed. However, there was a concern that due to the pain, he may suddenly jerk his leg, which could put him in jeopardy of something more serious happening. The grandson spotted me and called me over to help hold onto the rosh hayeshiva during the procedure so he wouldn’t move. My hand grasped the rosh yeshiva’s hand and he was to press my hand when in real pain. There was the doctor, one grandson, one attendant, the rosh yeshiva, and myself. Throughout the approximately 15-minute procedure, I was amazed (as I am still, so many decades later) that the rosh yeshiva sat there, eyes closed in deep concentration, and didn’t cry, scream, or press my hand any harder than before or after the procedure.

Now to Act II.

About nine months later, again on Erev Shabbos, I was having a conversation with the rosh yeshiva as a long line waited their turn. A grandson walked in and whispered into his ear the terrible news that just came out that an army helicopter had crashed in a training mission and all six soldiers were killed. The gadol ha’dor right in front of me burst into incredible sobbing, and we were all asked to leave. I remember leaving the house and standing outside for quite a while trying to absorb what I had just witnessed. This same gadol, who did not shed a tear when a doctor cut into his body with a knife, cried uncontrollably when he heard news about the loss of six soldiers, none who were talmidim of his or any yeshiva. How is that to be understood? For this gadol ha’dor, the pain of the suffering of another Jew is more painful than a knife cutting into his own body.

I said to that young man in the room filled with the shul’s board of directors, “I have just been accused of belonging to the ‘Shach school of thought.’ To me, that means I belong to the school of thought that we must love all Jews to the depth of our being, where their pain should hurt you more than your own physical pain. How proud I am to be part of such a school of thought, and I truly hope and pray that one day I will truly merit to share those types of feelings of ahavas Yisrael.” I said my goodbyes and left the room.

This was the gadol ha’dor that we were zocheh to. Not only the gadol in learning and in yiras Shamayim, but in Ahavas Yisrael as well. How sad and unfortunate that you and your chaverim are so blinded by hatred of everything chareidi that you can’t see greatness when it stares you in the face. Maybe it’s time to close the book of his transcribed speeches in English and see the greatness of the gadol ha’dor that two generations of gedolei ha’dor and hundreds of thousands of Yidden in the Torah community have not only always seen, but are still in awe of every day.

The Torah world is not only mortified and pained by your hateful comments on gedolei ha’dor, they are saddened by them as well. v

In the following weeks, Rabbi Ginzberg plans to continue his response in two more parts and he will also address the recent Satmar protest in NY, as well as the current situation in Eretz Yisrael. He will also address the comments by Mr. Jacobson in regard to the concept of the abundance of chesed that the chareidi community has been the recipients of and seems to lack appreciation for, as last week’s article claims.

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Posted by on June 20, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.